Regardless of who they end up hiring to be their head coach, this year’s draft will be an important one for the Cleveland Browns. After trading away Trent Richardson early in the season, the Browns have two first-round picks, including the No. 4 overall pick, and having three of the first 36 picks in the 2014 NFL Draft is a great opportunity to jump-start the rebuilding process. It’s been assumed that Cleveland will take a quarterback with the No. 4 overall pick, but instead of doing that the Browns should take Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
This year’s draft is loaded at the wide receiver position, but there’s no receiver available that’s more talented that Watkins. He may be the most talented receiver to be available in the draft since the 2011 class that produced A.J. Green and Julio Jones. Cleveland will have no trouble getting a great wide receiver later in the first-round or early in the second-round, but they won’t find anyone with Watkins’ skill-set which will make him hard to pass up for any team looking to pick up a wide receiver in this year’s draft.
In addition to not wanting to miss out on Watkins, the Browns don’t necessarily need to draft a quarterback with their top-five pick. It’s debatable how many quarterbacks in this year’s class are worthy of being a top-five pick, and on top of that there may already be one or two quarterbacks off the board by the time the Browns are on the clock. Do the Browns really want to spend such a high pick on the third-best quarterback available?
Moreover, the Browns have had so little success at drafting quarterbacks that it might be wise to draft a quarterback that doesn’t have the added pressure of being a top-five pick. Cleveland could easily wait until its pick at the end of the first-round or early in the second-round to take a quarterback and still end up with a talented signal-caller. Doing that would give whichever quarterback the Browns ultimately draft the benefit of having Watkins and Josh Gordon, who would make for a great tandem, as his wide receivers.
The Cincinnati Bengals utilized a similar strategy in 2011 when they took Green in the first-round and then quarterback Andy Dalton at the top of the second-round. While the jury is still out on Dalton being a top-tier quarterback in the NFL, there’s no doubt that having a receiver of Green’s caliber has been invaluable to him during the first three years of his career. If Cleveland were to pick Watkins first and then a quarterback they would be doing whichever young quarterback they pick a huge favor, much like the Bengals did for Dalton.
It’ll be tempting — and expected — for the Browns to take a quarterback with the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft. But it’s time for Cleveland to take a break from what’s conventional and expected. Drafting Watkins with their first pick and taking a quarterback later on may actually be what’s best for them, and it’s an approach they need to seriously consider.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.